Defining Hate Crimes in Texas
The first notion of hate crimes came about around the time of the Civil Rights Movement. By 1968, Congress was passing the first federal hate crime law that would set the basis for defining violent acts against specific individuals across the nation. According to the law, hate crimes are acts that are motivated by:
- Advocacy of violence against a specific group
So, what types of groups are protected under the scope of hate crime laws? Here’s an overview of the types of biases that are prohibited under federal and Texas law:
- Sexual orientation
- Ethnicity or national origin
In Texas, about 53.9 percent of hate crimes are motivated by racial bias. An overwhelming amount of hate crimes (44.4%) are committed by white Americans who target a specific person’s residence (40.4%). The following are the most commonly committed hate crime offenses in Texas:
Again, most of these cases were targeting a specific individual (79.1%). Only about 2.4% of hate crime offenses were directed against religious organizations, and only about 2.4% targeted businesses.
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What Are the Penalties for Committing a Hate Crime?
Did you get arrested and charged with a hate crime in Texas? If so, then you were likely hit with other charges as well depending on what allegedly happened. The penalties you could potentially face depend on the severity of the criminal charge.
When charged with a hate crime, your original charges will be upgraded to the next level of severity. For example, if your original crime is a class A misdemeanor, then it’ll be upgraded to a state jail felony. Here’s the list of the different categories of crimes in Texas from least to most serious:
- Class C misdemeanor
- Class B misdemeanor
- Class A misdemeanor
- State jail felony
- Third-degree felony
- Second-degree felony
- First-degree felony
- Capital felony
Even the least serious charge, class C misdemeanors, involve a potential $500 fine. Class B misdemeanors result in up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000. These steep punishments only increase as the severity of your offense increases.
Defending Yourself Against Hate Crime Charges
The biggest difference between standard charges and hate crime charges is the element of bias. Your best defense against hate crime charges is to argue that this element didn’t exist. You’ll need to prove that your actions weren’t motivated by any sort of bias or prejudice. You could also attempt to argue that you never committed the alleged crime, which would clear you of committing a hate crime.
Depending on your charges, you’ll have a lot of potential defense strategies you can use in court. Here are some of the most common defense strategies:
- Mistake of fact (you didn’t commit the offense or were not motivated by bias)
- Unconstitutional arrest
- You committed the act out of self-defense
- You committed the act while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Which defense strategy will work best in your situation? You’ll need to carefully consider the facts and circumstances surrounding the original incident and your arrest before you come to a conclusion.
You’ll also want to use discovery methods to learn what types of evidence the state has against you. Certain defense strategies will fall flat in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.
It’s in your best interest to hire a criminal defense attorney to help you make the best decision about a defense strategy. If you can’t afford to hire one, then use your Constitutional right to hire a public defender.
Are Politically-Motivated Crimes Hate Crimes in Texas?
Many, if not all, crimes are perpetrated out of hatred. The FBI itself confirms that hate itself is not a crime. Crimes that are committed against a specific person out of hatred for the person’s personality type or past actions would not be considered a hate crime.
Instead, the hatred must stem from an inherent bias based on the person’s race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, ethnicity or status as a disabled individual to be labeled a hate crime.
Under this scope, politically motivated crimes are not considered hate crimes. Despite that, the line between politically motivated crimes and hate crimes is becoming more blurred due to the current divisive political atmosphere.
For that reason, it’s crucial that you learn more about what types of individuals would fall under the scope of protected individuals. Political protests that target a specific group, for example, could be considered hate crime harassment if it’s perpetrated against:
- LGBT individuals
- Black Americans
- Jewish individuals
- Specific immigrant groups (Mexicans, Syrians)
As you likely already know, the current political atmosphere has caused a lot of uproar. There’s been an increase in hostile actions from both left-wing and right-wing advocates. Targeting someone due to their political affiliation isn’t necessarily a hate crime, but your actions could be defined as such if your protest is directed against a specific protected group.
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Were You Accused of a Hate Crime in Texas?
We all know that Texas is a very punitive state when it comes to punishing those accused of crimes. Getting charged with a crime threatens your personal freedom, and you’ll likely get temporarily put in jail until the situation is sorted out.
If you’re accused of a hate crime, then you’re in a much more dire situation. Texas law states that if your crime was motivated by bias, then you’ll automatically have your offense upgraded to the next highest level. On top of that, judges or jury members are likely to judge your crime more harshly.
Just last year, white supremacist John William King was executed for his racially-motivated killing of James Byrd Jr. in 1998.
Never assume that the court will sympathize with your situation or agree with your defensive arguments. If you’re charged with a hate crime, then you need a strong criminal defense attorney by your side. Reach out to our office now to learn more about how we can help.